Basketball / For Dynamo, Blatt Is a Dream Come True

Boston-born Israeli coach David Blatt has been signed to take the helm of Dynamo Moscow of Russia's Super League. One of the most successful coaches in European basketball, Blatt played at Princeton University before embarking on a 12-year playing career in the Israeli premier league and holding several coaching positions at Israeli clubs, including a stretch as manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv. He is also currently head coach of Russia's national team.

In truth, there was hardly any competition for the position. Dynamo had its eye on Blatt from the start. Even after he spurned the team's advances last year, the team's management persisted in courting the Princeton boy. Yesterday their dream became a reality.

"It is very nice that the media outlets in Russia, Israel and Greece sprayed fog around the identity of the candidate to be coach of our team," Dynamo General Manager Gennadi Drusdov said yesterday with a smile.

"In fact, we only had one candidate - just David Blatt. We were disappointed when we were unable to sign him ahead of the season that just ended. But now we have a chance to look toward the future with a coach from the upper echelon of Europe."

"Blatt is a proven winner and a coach who changes with the times. Our goals haven't changed from what they were this season: We will fight for the title of Russian Super League champion, and we'll strive to win the ULEB cup, and from there return to the Euroleague," he said. "That is our natural place."

Drusdov seemed unconcerned that with Blatt busy preparing the Russian team for the Olympics, Dynamo might end up starting the season in less than top form.

"David's task as head coach of the Russian team at the Beijing Olympics is important to all of us. Even after that, we will still have seven weeks to prepare the team for the Russian league and the ULEB cup. I believe that when we're talking about a coach at Blatt's level, such a period of time is enough," he said.

The shared ambition of Drusdov and Dynamo President Evgeny Gomelsky is to kick CSKA Moscow off the Russian champion's podium and take its place atop the European standings.

Campaign funds are hardly lacking - Dynamo holds an almost legendary place in the Russian sports world due to its bloated budget, somewhere between $20 and $22 million, a figure expected to rise this year to $25 million.

Until now this 85-year-old club has been unable to claim any particularly impressive achievements, despite its being nearly a byword in Russian, and formerly Soviet, sports.

Dynamo won the Soviet championship twice - in the first final ever held, in 1937, and in 1948. Two years ago, the Dynamo of legendary Serbian coach Dusan Ivkovic won the ULEB cup after beating Hapoel Jerusalem in the semifinal. The following season, Ivkovic's men took the Euroleague by surprise by making it to the quarter-final before being bested by Panathinaikos, which went on to be crowned champion.

None of these achievements were enough, however, to stake a claim to a spot in the Euroleague, and the club returned to battle for the ULEB cup. Even in the Russian domestic league, it failed to register significant gains.

In 2005, with new manager Valery Tikhonenko (who replaced current Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Zvika Sherf), Dynamo fought its way to second place behind perennial champion CSKA.

The driving force behind bringing Blatt to Dynamo was Evgeny Gomelsky.

"I always saw a dynamic coach in Blatt, a sharp-witted man and one of the hardest-working," Gomelsky told the Russian newspaper Sport Express. "We wanted him even before his astounding victory at the European championship with the Russian national team. It made it all the more clear to us that Blatt has been familiar with Russian basketball since his days with Dynamo St. Petersburg, and from our perspective he is the ideal choice. I'm glad that this time the match was successful," he said.

As is their custom, the Russians won't talk about money at the table. Still, it is clear that Blatt, receiving pay stubs from both the Russian national team and Dynamo, is one of the three or four highest-paid coaches in Europe, with a salary estimated at 1.5 million euros a season.

Sources at Dynamo have neither confirmed nor denied contacting former Maccabi Tel Aviv center Nikola Vujcic, released from the Israeli powerhouse only this week.

Whomever Blatt seeks to recruit to Moscow, it will be hard for the team's management to turn him down. Blatt is Dynamo's dream - a dream born in Boston, nurtured in Princeton and Tel Aviv and welcomed to Russia with love.